First, test the technology. Logon, and putter around the place. Find out where the teacher leaves messages for the class, where the syllabus is, where test results are given. If there’s a whiteboard, post a test message. Do everything that you can, to find out what is likely to give you grief.
Once you know your way around the site, check the syllabus for upcoming tests and exams, and calendar those. In your personal schedule, set aside 2 – 4 hours a couple of days prior to each exam for review.
Some classes require you to do teamwork with other students, so eventually you will have to schedule time to work on assignments with them. You will also need to complete the individual portions of each assignment, so schedule that in, as well. A standard amount of time for homework and reading assignments is 2 – 3 hours per week for each hour spent in class.
Next, browse through your textbook. Note the chapter titles and subtitles, and check them against the syllabus. Compare the order in which the teacher will be advancing through the textbook, the amount of time spent on each section, and how far you will be expected to proceed during the term. This is the game plan. Understand it, and you will have a much better idea of what the teacher is expecting to you to achieve during this course.
Think about how you will get help if you get bogged down in an assignment. There are many resources available, from the teacher, to other students, to tutors, to the entire internet. Recognize that you must reach out at the first sign of trouble. Doing well in school is difficult enough when that’s all you do. Add in a full-time job, a family, other obligations, and the difficulty factor multiplies drastically. You can’t afford to wait—you must get help immediately. If you’ve considered your options before you run into trouble, it’ll be easier to ask for help as soon as you need it.
Be sure to enter the add/drop date without penalty for the class into your schedule. If you are not satisfied with the quality of teaching or subject matter or technology, or for any other reason, drop the class before that date. It’s counter-productive to remain in a class you don’t like when you are pursuing a degree for a certain purpose. At the least, you will have to fight your own lack of motivation to do the required work, and at worst, the class will not prepare you for the next class on your degree track.
Remember: this class is for your benefit. Some courses of study are better suited for distance learning than are others, some teachers are better than others, and some groups of students perform better than do others. Regardless of the situation you find yourself in, you are in charge of your distance learning experience.